So who's Anna Brown? Anna is my late mother-in-law. The Brown is a nod to Alton Brown of the Food Network's Good Eats program.
I love shrimp Creole, gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, dirty rice and other staples of Louisiana cuisine. I don't love slaving over a hot stove trying to make a roux. The first time I tried my hand at gumbo, I burned the roux. A more seasoned cook would have known to throw it out and start over, but I thought the other ingredients would mask the burnt taste, so I doggedly kept on. Suffice it to say, it was awful. Even the shrimp were unpalatable, having cooked in eau de burnt flour. I wound up throwing out a very expensive meal and learned a valuable lesson: You want Creole or Cajun, go to a restaurant.
The second time I tried making a roux, I managed not to burn it, but it took darn near forever to achieve that dark caramel color. I was hot, cranky, aching from hunching over the stove, and was sporting some splatter burns on my hands and forearms from stirring the roux a little too vigorously; they don't call it Cajun napalm for nothing. I learned another valuable lesson: You want Creole or Cajun, go to a restaurant.
Then one afternoon, I was channel surfing and ran across a Good Eats episode wherein Alton Brown, in his scientifically foody way, was making gumbo. What riveted my attention was that Alton baked the roux. He whisked the oil and flour together in a Dutch oven, and then threw the whole mess into a pre-heated oven for 90 minutes. I had never heard of such a thing and was thusly, to coin an Alton-ism, immediately skeptical. No way could it be that easy. Still, I was intrigued enough to Google the recipe from the Food Network website, print it, and stick it in my recipe binder, where it sat until I was sufficiently motivated to try it.
This recipe, therefore, combines Alton's baked roux with my MIL's version of shrimp Creole. If, like me, you've made roux the old-fashioned way and are fed up with the constant stirring and bullets of hot floury grease, give this a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how painless, figuratively and literally, making a roux can be. This is because oven heat is much gentler than the close, direct, in-your-face heat of the stove coils. Of course, there are those purists who will insist that no roux can truly be called a roux if you haven't given up a significant portion of your day making it. To each his own.
ANNA BROWN'S SHRIMP CREOLE
Feeds a crowd. Make the sauce a day ahead to give it time to season. Just before serving, heat it on the stove, add the shrimp, and cook through. If it's a little too thick, you can thin it with additional chicken broth.
2/3 C vegetable oil
2/3 C all-purpose flour
1 C chopped yellow onions
1 C chopped green onions (white and light green parts)
1 C chopped celery
1 C chopped green pepper
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
3 - 14 1/2 cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 - 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 - 6 oz can tomato paste
1 - 14 oz can chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne (add more for a kick)
2 - 3 bay leaves
1 TB lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 tsp hot sauce
3 1/2 lbs of 21 - 25 ct raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Hot cooked rice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make your roux. In a Dutch oven, whisk the veggie oil and flour together until smooth. Bake uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times. While the roux bakes, chop your veggies, clean your shrimp, and prepare your other ingredients. You can actually multi-task while making a roux! Who'd a thunk it? My husband commented that the baking roux smelled like a roasting Thanksgiving turkey. It did, weirdly.
Place the Dutch oven on your stove and VERY CAREFULLY so you don't get splashed, add the holy trinity of Creole cuisine: your chopped pepper, onions and celery. Stir in your minced garlic.
Let your veggies and garlic cook for 15 minutes over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Take care that your roux doesn't burn at this stage.
Add the remaining ingredients except the shrimp and rice. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, lower heat and simmer for an hour, stirring every now and then.
My better half took me out for an early Valentine's dinner at III Forks, one of our favorite restaurants. Unlike a lot of upscale steakhouses, this place is a full-plated steakhouse which means you don't have to order your sides a la carte, a good thing considering how pricey the steaks are. It's weird, but my favorite part of the III Forks meal, besides the beef, is their version of creamed corn. I Googled it and found a recipe purporting to be the real deal. I'll have to try it and see.
But I digress. To reciprocate for the wonderful restaurant meal, my husband asked for, and I fixed, scallops for dinner tonight. We both love seafood, but didn't come on to scallops until a couple of years ago. Since then, this lowly mollusk has graced our dinner table quite a bit.
Scallops are best when seared, but I sometimes had problems getting that crispy caramelization. I couldn't figure out if my pan wasn't hot enough, or if it was the type of fat used. Then one night I prepared them and they were a big disappointment. Even my husband, who will eat just about anything not nailed down, gave it up as a bad job. I ran to the computer and Googled. When in doubt, Google; that's my mantra.
I discovered something interesting. There are two types of scallops sold in grocery stores: wet and dry. Wet scallops are treated with a preservative called sodium tripolyphosphate, which causes the little critters to retain water, much like a woman with PMS. Wet scallops are difficult to sear because the cooking process releases their water and they wind up simmering instead of searing. Dry scallops (or diver scallops) are the way to go. The dry version is more expensive, but consider the money you are paying for water retention in the other kind.
Before cooking scallops, rinse them well under running water and, if necessary, remove the catch muscle. This is the muscle the animal uses to close its shell. It's tough and unpleasant to eat, so remove it by prying it off with your fingers or a paring knife. Dry the scallops thoroughly with paper towels and season them with a little salt and pepper.
Scallops cook quickly, a couple of minutes on each side should do it. When searing, your pan needs to be HOT. Use an oil with a high smoking point, like peanut or canola oil, and don't use a non-stick pan. Pour just a smear of oil in the pan and heat to where you can see it just starting to smoke. Add the scallops, but do not crowd them. If they touch, they will steam cook. When searing, do not give in to the temptation to peek at how things are doing "down under". Give it a good 90 seconds, then briefly lift with tongs. If you find Nirvana, that beautiful brown color, flip and continue cooking on the other side.
Now that you've got the basics, let's go on to the recipe. It is ridiculously easy.
SEARED SCALLOPS IN SHALLOT BUTTER
1/2 stick (4 TB) butter
2 TB fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 C finely chopped shallots
1 TB finely chopped fresh parsley
Large "dry" sea scallops (three large sea scallops are generally more than adequate for each serving)
First, make the sauce:
Melt the butter in a small saute pan over medium-low heat. Continue cooking until the butter is browned and has that wonderful toasty, nutty smell. Be careful it doesn't burn! Pour in lemon juice and while that sizzles, quickly add shallots and parsley. Cook and stir for about another minute and remove from heat. Keep warm. You can easily double the sauce if cooking for four people.
Prepare and cook scallops as directed above. Plate your scallops and spoon the shallot butter over the tops.
"I am not
a glutton; I am an explorer of food." How I miss Erma Bombeck!